Interview with Louisa – Marathoner, triathlete & mental health advocate

As part of my blog I (MM) believe it’s important to share common and similar experiences. With over 22k Instagram followers and acting as an advocate for the equality of physical and mental health. I’m so inspired by the work she is doing. I’d like to introduce you to Louisa (LE).

MB: In 2013 you started training for your first marathon, which was London 2014, what advice would you give other people attempting their first marathon?

LE: Yes it was London 2014. My main advice would be to set reasonable goals. I gave myself a year to change which I felt was beneficial as I didn’t put to much pressure on myself and was able to go at my own pace. At the beginning I could only run three/four miles non-stop so I definitely had my work cut out. But I set small goals, I made sure I started covering shorter distances first rather than jump to long runs.

But I would mainly tell people to be realistic, train smart and listen to your body. Don’t rush, give yourself enough time to train and also recover. Don’t continue to train if your struggling and listen to your body.

Louisa’s latest marathon at Brighton 2016
MB: What are you currently training for?

LE: I’m currently training for my marathon challenge. I have set myself a challenge to run three marathons (Manchester, Brighton and London) in April 2017 for the charity, Mental Health Foundation. I am starting slowly to train for this, but I have started to increase my distance, and I’m also focusing on cross training (something which I have always over looked previously).

I have just finished my first triathlon, so through June and July I was training for that, which was a huge challenge as I am not a strong swimmer or cycler so I had to focus on them more than anything.

MB: Across your social media profile you raise awareness for mental health, sharing your own experiences in an inspiring way. Additionally you are working in the field of mental health, what stigmas do you most commonly come across and how have you dealt with them?

LE: There is a huge social stigma around mental health and people fear to speak out as they fear they will be judged or isolated from others. It’s so unacceptable for people to feel this way, mental health is just as important as physical health and can affect so many thousands of people so why should they be ashamed to speak out.

At first I didn’t want to talk about it, I didn’t want to answer difficult questions and it was a part of my life that I wanted to forget, but as I changed I realised that it made me who I am and I want to be an advocate for people to accept who they are and embrace that.

Working in mental health has definitely been a huge insight into the struggles that individuals can go through and I’ve always empowered them to speak out if they struggle, and to take everyday as it comes and understand that sometimes your mind needs looking after too, just as much as your body does.

MB: Typically explaining why you run marathons to a non runner is never straight forward. I’ve been called crazy, I’ve been told it’s boring, it’s bad for your knees, it’s painful etc. In the face of the reasons not to run, why do you run and how has it benefited you?

LE: I grew up always avoiding sport and I don’t think I ever participated in sports day at secondary school, but there came a point in my life where I had to turn things around and to me running seemed the most simple way. It did not require me to have a gym membership or anything expensive, I brought a cheap pair of shoes from the Internet and just went from there. I believe the only reason I started running was because it seemed the most simple at the time. I look back now and I’m so thankful.

I now run for myself, I am not at goal weight (and I doubt anyone ever is as its forever changing) but I am happy. I’ve changed a lot since I started running and I’ve learned to be myself, I will never be perfect and honestly no one ever will be, but running now is for me to have time to myself, to de stress, to feel free and to look after my mind. If I don’t run for a few days I am not myself, I feel agitated and frustrated. I feel that I need a good run to clear my mind so that is the motivation to get me out of the front door five times a week.

There is always an argument from people that running is not good for you but my answer is always is anything good for you? Any exercise can cause injury and not exercising and being overweight can cause physical health problems also, so just live life to be happy and be grateful for the ability to run while you can as we never know what is around the corner.

MB: In your experience, how important is the link between physical health and mental health?

LE: Physical health does impact mental health, as it can affect your mood, leading towards poor self esteem and isolation. Recognising it, is the first step towards changing it.

When I was overweight I was so depressed, I didn’t want to socialise much I just went to work and home again which caused me to comfort eat (which became a vicious circle).

Some people don’t understand how much your mind can effect you. By thinking in a manner that’s positive and healthy it can cause you to make healthier choices. By clouding our minds with negative thoughts it will cause us to remain in a negative cycle.

By looking after our minds and physical health separately they will work together to make us healthier.

Exercising regularly can be so beneficial for our physical health and our mental health, but people often just exercise to lose weight and be physically healthy and they don’t realise what it is doing for their minds also.

MB: When you have experienced depression, and are in the low moments, what advice would you give to people about how they can ground themselves?

LE: My advice is to recognise what is going on, when I feel like that now I feel that it’s my minds way of telling me to slow down, that I’m doing to much. At times I can be on placement and working part time and life becomes so stressful, throughout these times I can suffer very badly from low mood and I have to remind myself that it’s not forever, but also listen to my mind and take some time out if I need to to focus on myself.

Speaking out is not always easy, but if there is someone that you really know and trust then speak to them, tell them how you feel and see if you can arrange something together that would help you.

It’s important to note and remind yourself, that this low mood is not permanent, it will not last forever and it’s not always who you are. Everyone has days when they feel low and fed up, they would be lying if they said they were happy everyday all day, but this moment in time, doesn’t make them who they are. Telling yourself that you feel low is fine, it’s important to recognise it, then remind yourself that’s it’s not who you are permanently. If there is something in your life making you feel this way, usually for me I can feel like this when I’m stressed or haven’t taken time to look after my mind. So I allow time for myself, I do a activity that I know I will enjoy and make sure I make that a priority.

It’s also important not to punish yourself for feeling like this, it is normal and everyone has struggles in life so there is no need to feel guilty, angry or ashamed in anyway, embrace who you are and accept who you are.

Online contact links:

Instagram & Twitter: @louisaruns

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